WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wants to reverse a trend of fewer children participating in sports and make youth sports more accessible to economically disadvantaged students.
The White House is promoting the goals of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition on Wednesday and will hold a field day with the president on the South Lawn. Trump is expected to join athletes at stations that will include flag football, baseball, volleyball, golf, soccer and track and field.
Trump issued an executive order in February refocusing the council on youth sports as opposed to President Barack Obama’s emphasis on fitness and healthy eating. Trump, who played high school sports and is a competitive golfer, has sought to work with groups in the public and private sectors to address declining participation in youth sports.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, noted that the Aspen Institute found that 37 per cent of children played team sports on a regular basis in 2016, down from nearly 45 per cent in 2008.
She told reporters in a conference call ahead of the event that sports participation lags disproportionately among young girls and children who live in economically distressed areas. Many high schools have “pay to play” policies requiring students to pay a fee to join a school sports team, making it difficult for families to afford afterschool sports.
“We must break down barriers to youth sports participation and empower each child to reach his or her full potential through sport and play,” Ivanka Trump said. She said that by the time girls reach age 14, they drop out of athletics at two times the rate of boys.
Participants at the White House event will include “The Incredible Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno, who befriended Trump while appearing on “Celebrity Apprentice”; former New York Yankees’ baseball players Johnny Damon and Mariano Rivera; former football star Herschel Walker; beach volleyball Olympic gold medallist Misty May-Treanor; and professional golfer Natalie Gulbis.
The President’s Council was established in 1956 by President Dwight Eisenhower to promote youth fitness and sports. Each president has often placed his own stamp on the council and its priorities.
During Obama’s presidency, first lady Michelle Obama launched the sports council in 2010 in conjunction with her “Let’s Move!” initiative and took part in hula-hooping and jumping rope as ways to fight childhood obesity.
Trump’s administration plans to create a national strategy to promote youth participation in sports and set the stage for a series of events that will culminate around the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Trump has bragged about his athletic abilities, telling The Wall Street Journal in a January interview: “I was always the best athlete. People don’t know that.” The president was once the owner the USFL’s New Jersey Generals — his team was led by Walker, a Heisman Trophy-winning running back — and Trump frequently plays golf with members of Congress and world leaders.
His White House doctor said earlier this year that Trump acknowledged he’d be healthier if he lost a few pounds by exercising more and eating better. Dr. Ronny Jackson, who has since left that post, told reporters that he’d arrange for a dietitian to consult with the White House chef to cut calories and recommend a low-impact, aerobic exercise program for Trump with the aim of shedding 10 to 15 pounds this year.